by Nicole HarrisWe're only 8 days away from ChoreoFest, the one and only 24-hour dance festival! Today we bring you the next installment of our ChoreoFest choreographer interviews, a chat with incredible tap dancer Ryan P. Casey!
Nicole Harris: What made you want to make the move from being a dancer to a choreographer?
Ryan Casey: I think it was the realization that I had something to say – that I, too, wanted to make something of my own and put it out there for others to see and hear.
Nicole: What are you most nervous about regarding ChoreoFest?
Ryan: How we’re going to forge ahead when we’re really tired and hit the wall, so to speak. It’s hard to be creative when you’re exhausted!
Nicole: Have you participated in ChoreoFest before? If so, what is your favorite memory of that experience? What advice do you have for new ChoreoFest choreographers? Are there things you hope to do differently this time?
Ryan: This is my second time doing ChoreoFest, and I’m definitely keeping in mind all the lessons I learned from before (2013). My company and I had a lot of fun, but we struggled to agree on anything. Our theme was “wishes,” and we experimented with – and ultimately discarded – many different ideas before finally deciding on a wishing well. But that wasn’t until 1 a.m. – some companies were already done by then! I learned that I needed to be a stronger leader/director for my troupe and make executive decisions for us all. This year, we’re definitely going to decide on a concept much sooner so that we can spend more time on actual choreography rather than toying with potential ideas.
Nicole: Since this is a very controlled creative space (in terms of time and topic) where do you see yourself starting when you get in the space?
Ryan: I work best when I have a fairly concrete idea of what’s happening, so I have to know what the scenario is, or who the characters are, or what the music is, etc. From there, my thoughts can blossom around it but I need that initial foundation to build upon. I suspect that we’ll brainstorm some possibilities for our chosen theme and consider what will best serve us as percussive dancers, and then create a concept or character idea from there.
Nicole: In creating a new work, what in the relationship between you and your dancers? Do they participate in the creative process? If so, how?
Ryan: I always want my dancers to be part of the process. I typically come in with the concept and the music, and sometimes some or a lot of the choreography, but I always want input – on steps, spacing, anything – from whomever I’m working with. The creative process is inherently collaborative, so why not make it explicitly so? I hire people not just because they are great dancers, but because they are great thinkers – they can bring more ideas to the table, so to speak, and make for a richer experience. The more invested they are in the creation, the more invested they will be in the performance – the better the show will be.
Even though my company is called Ryan P. Casey & Dancers, that is not at all reflective of a hierarchy or a “me vs. them” scenario. Frankly, I never wanted my company to be named as such and have always been vaguely skeptical of similarly named troupes. It always sounds to me like “Ryan Casey & Some Other People” or “The Ryan Casey Show.” I remember reading an article in which Betsi Graves described how she came to name her company Urbanity Dance rather than Betsi Graves & Company. That still speaks volumes to me.
Nicole: Knowing that Karen Krolak will be on hand as "choreographic guru", what things do you hope she can help with in the overnight process?
Ryan: I think Karen will be great for those moments when I’m wondering, “What am I not thinking of right now?” I expect she’ll be able to offer ideas that will send me down an intellectual avenue I won’t have even thought of yet!
Nicole: Who are some of your favorite choreographers?
Ryan: I loved working for Michelle Dorrance and watching her creative process unfold in the studio. She influenced my own thinking so much – not just in terms of rhythm or choreography, but just in terms of movement. I also love anything Dana Foglia does – her unique combination of sensuality and musicality is hypnotic.
Nicole: Who are your mentors? How are you paying forward the things your mentor gave you?
Ryan: I owe a lot to my primary tap teachers, Thelma Goldberg and Kelly Kaleta. Thelma’s most powerful message to me was to “share the joy of dance with others.” I recently received an email from someone who had seen my company perform at Jacob’s Pillow last year and, when he was there again a few weeks ago, made a point to watch our performance on video and tell me that he was smiling the whole time. That was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received; I saw so clearly how true Thelma’s words are.
I consider Billy Siegenfeld to be a significant mentor, as well. He taught me what rhythmic clarity, the ultimate goal (I think) of any percussive dancer, really means. There’s not a day that goes by where I’m not thinking, actively or not, of his principles.
Aaron Tolson and Michelle Dorrance were both kind enough to hire me for their companies, and I learned just as much dancing alongside them as I did sitting on the sidelines observing them. Michelle especially made the proverbial lightbulb go off over my head about what tap choreography could be.
Nicole: Where can people learn more about you and your work?
Ryan: They can visit my website, www.ryanpcasey.com; follow me on Twitter or Instagram, where I’m @tapdude24; or “like” my company, Ryan P. Casey & Dancers, on Facebook!